Manchester Arena inquiry: Victims' families still 'looking for answers', says mother of Martyn Hett

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

Martyn Hett was one of the 22 people killed in the Manchester Arena bombing and since the inquiry into the terror attack began, his mother has attended almost every day.

But after three months of evidence, it’s not getting any easier and on Monday, when the public inquiry resumes after a Christmas break, Figen Murray will be back.

For the next two weeks, the inquiry will look at evidence relating to the emergency response to the terror attack, and in particular why only one member of the ambulance staff entered the scene of the explosion for the first 40 minuets and no fire fighters arrived for two hours.

Several news measures, including hearings taking part largely remotely, will also be brought in amid England's third Covid-19 lockdown.

The inquiry has taken an emotional toll on Ms Murray but she says this is what she had expected.

“It has been difficult but it didn’t come as a surprise anything painful I heard, because you enter this process with the expectation that difficult stuff is going to be coming to the surface so it’s kind of expected but it’s not comfortable.”

22 people were killed in the terror attack. Credit: ITV News

Three-and-a-half years since that terrible night at Manchester Arena, three-and-a-half years where Martyn’s friends and loved ones have missed him every day and the pain has been the same for every victim’s family.

“We’re all looking for answers because at the moment it’s a big unknown what exactly happened, and I say quite often it feels like a huge jigsaw without the picture and day by day we are getting a little piece here and a piece there and hopefully by the end of this process we’ll have the complete picture," Ms Murray told ITV News.

"When people say I know exactly how you feel, I know that there are people in there who do know exactly how we as a family feel because they go through the same thing.”

Other evidence about the attack has come to light in the opening eight chapters of the hearings: how MI5 had come across suicide attacker Salman Abedi a total of 18 times; how security staff and their bosses at the arena missed a number of opportunities to challenge him; and how police officers who should have been on duty that night were absent.

“What happened to us and our families could potentially happen to anyone.

"Actually we were just the unlucky families it happened to but hopefully the inquiry…

"I mean the purpose of an inquiry is to find out what went wrong and how to put it right and hopefully things will be put right at the end of this, and that’s the most important thing to come out of this - that anything that went wrong isn’t repeated.”

Martyn Hett was 29 when he died in the terror attack. Credit: Family of Martyn Hett

Ms Murray is campaigning for a change in the law to ensure that any gathering of people in a public place must be protected by security.

That, she believes, would be a fitting legacy for the son she misses every day.

From Monday, the inquiry will switch to remote hearings after chair Sir John Saunders was told the risk of coronavirus had increased dramatically in just a few days.

Only three members of the inquiry team and the witness will be present at Manchester Magistrates’ Court, with everyone else, including Sir John, listening and taking part remotely.

The inquiry will be carried out in this way until at least the middle of February.

However, many of the victims and their families fear they will not get the answers they seek if the inquiry sticks to virtual hearings for its remainder.

Hearings will also be cut to two-and-a-half days per week to take into account childcare issues from participants because of school closures.

The inquiry has heard that bomber Salman Abedi was known to MI5 before he carried out his deadly attack. Credit: Greater Manchester Police

On Friday afternoon, having heard evidence from the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), Sir John said: "I have reached this decision taking into account the responsibility on all of us to avoid leaving our homes unless it is necessary to do so and my own circumstances, which are that I am in a priority group for vaccination but have not yet been vaccinated. 

"If I were to become seriously unwell, in addition to the effect on me, this would adversely affect the progress of the Inquiry.

"In those circumstances I consider that I should attend remotely when this is consistent with doing my job properly."

Lisa Roberts QC, for NWAS, said on Thursday the organisation was facing "unprecedented challenges" with the epidemic.

"The situation has deteriorated in the short space of time since our submissions were lodged on Monday of this week," she added.

She said 18% of ambulance staff were currently unavailable, the vast majority because they were ill or self-isolating because of Covid-19.

"The vast majority of staff who have been identified to be called as witnesses in this inquiry, including senior and high−ranking personnel, are fully engaged in responding on the front line," she said.

Sir John said Ms Roberts submissions "did bring home to us just how bad the present situation is."

As a result, he said, "we will not require the attendance as witnesses from NWAS those who are now primary carers, as everyone who is medically qualified is being required to assist with the present emergency."

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) has admitted their response to the bombing was "neither adequate nor effective."

By contrast, NWAS has said it provided a "quick, effective and adequate" response to the attack although one paramedic entered the scene of the explosion for the first 40 minutes.

The first member of the ambulance service only arrived at the scene 18 minutes after the explosion, but he has been criticised by his bosses for "self-deploying" after following a police car.

Families of the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing have said they fear they will not get the answers they seek if the inquiry sticks to virtual hearings for the rest of the inquiry.

John Cooper QC, for 12 of the victims' families, urged a re-examination of the situation in February and said it was important for lawyers to be present in the hearing room in order to conduct a "forensic examination."

"In our submission the families have behaved with understanding, integrity and dignity but this is their only opportunity to participate in a forensic approach to the truth.

"The families have made clear that when their loved ones are being dealt with, they will wish to be present in the hearing room. For them it is not a wish, it is a need."

Duncan Atkinson QC for six of the victims' families, said there were "significant parts" of the evidence where families want to be present to hear witnesses talk about their loved ones.

"A lot of that evidence will be both difficult and emotive and the families will require support. It is far from ideal that they could be hearing that evidence on their own at home," Mr Atkinson said.